For early humans there was no distinction between spirit and matter. There was no idea of self; no barrier between consciousness and the world. Eventually, evolving self-consciousness and thought put a barrier between the two. Object was irrecoverably divorced from subject. Or so I’ve read somewhere. Something like that anyway.
Very recently yet another barrier has been erected between human consciousness and the world in the form of the smart phone touch screen, putting us at not one but two removes from reality. No wonder everyone’s lost the plot. On Sunday, at the very forefront of the evolution of human consciousness, I took human evolution a step further by watching West Ham play Liverpool on my phone screen while sitting in a room in Provence. My phone screen was connected to another phone screen held shakily by my grandson and pointed at a television screen in his tiny bedroom in Basingstoke. So in this way I was able to watch the match at three removes from reality, and I was happy to do so because I don’t have a Sky Sports subscription and Radio 5 Live soccer commentaries are blocked to French listeners.
My grandson Oscar shares a bedroom with his younger brother, Klynton. Klynton supports Liverpool, Oscar the Hammers. As a caring grandad I did my utmost to dissuade Oscar from choosing West Ham United and a life of misery tempered by farce. But choose them he did. In choosing to support the consistently successful Liverpool, however, Klynton’s life will be less stressful and longer and I congratulate him for it.
The brothers share a tiny bedroom. They are either watching screens in this bedroom or they are at school. Nothing else. It’s a shame. For the past two weeks I’ve been trying, from France, to arrange a weekly football training session at a local soccer centre for them, but the project is being met with little enthusiasm from the individual most crucially involved in my plan — their father. In the interim I send them football shirts to wear while they are looking at their screens in their bedroom.
For Sunday’s match Klynton was wearing his pinkish-mauve Liverpool training shirt and Oscar something described by the West Ham United shop as a Junior Hammers’ ‘Gamers’ shirt, a concept which suits Oscar perfectly at this stalled stage of the negotiations between me and his father to get them both outside in the open air and kicking a real football. Aged 11 and ten, their respective affiliations have attained the proper level of fanaticism only in the past year. For this West Ham vs Liverpool match the brotherly rivalry was at a new and optimum level of intensity.
At the risk of boring all you rugger buggers half to death, West Ham scored first from an early corner. I saw the ball loop over, then a part of the bedroom ceiling, then I heard childlike shouting. Then I saw the referee surrounded by angry Liverpool players, then I was looking at the interior of a jar of sweets and heard that the referee’s final decision had been passed to the video referee. The camera went from the sweet jar to the match referee studying a screen on the touch line showing the slow-motion replay. Now I was watching footballers at four removes.
The goal stood. We didn’t crow, Oscar and I. We respected Klynton’s misplaced loyalty. Klynton was in any case relaxed. Liverpool would in all likelihood come back and annihilate the home side, he thought. One: Liverpool were unbeaten in an incredible 25 matches. And two (to paraphrase Belloc): ‘Whatever happens they have got/ Mohamed Salah, and we have not.’ Half an hour later said Mohamed blatantly dived at the edge of the box, pretending to have been shoved, collapsing like a pricked bubble, which he always does so well, and Liverpool scored directly from the free kick. I was shown a close-up of Klynton’s joyful face. I saw it dissolve tragically to tears when Oscar pointed out, with more vitriol than was necessary to make his point, that Salah had cheated — again.
In the second half West Ham scored two more in eight minutes. When the first went in I was being shown a pattern in the carpet, but by a lucky coincidence the camera was pointed at the screen when Zouma leapt like a salmon to put the Hammers faithful on Cloud Nine for a week. Instead of the replay, I was shown Klynton’s face again. He was crying again, then his face was obscured by his Liverpool shirt as he tore it off. Then I was shown his thin, white, abject little body leaving the bedroom again, and the door slamming behind him, followed by a close- up of Oscar’s eyebrows going up and down like a pantomime villain’s.
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